International human rights activists are calling upon Africans to add to the pressure on China to help end the humanitarian tragedy in Darfur. Advocacy groups say the government of Sudan is responsible for killing hundreds of thousands of people in the region since 2003. The activists say China is supporting Khartoum’s “campaign of genocide” by supplying President Omar al-Bashir’s administration with weapons and money. As such, they say they’ll consider calling for an international boycott of next year’s Olympics in Beijing, unless China plays a positive role in bringing peace to Darfur. In the final part of a series focusing on this issue, VOA’s Darren Taylor reports on the African role in Darfur, and efforts to get the continent involved in a possible Olympics boycott.
Stephen Morrison, a senior Africa analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C., praises the African Union’s attempts thus far at getting peace in Darfur.
“The African troop contributors – Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa and others – have acquitted themselves very honorably and courageously during this period and taken great risks and done it with great determination and conviction. But they haven’t been able to fulfill the mission fully. They need the boost that’ll come from partnering with the United Nations,” says Morrison.
Khartoum recently agreed to allow a force of between 20,000 and 25,000 multinational soldiers – under UN command - into Darfur to protect civilians. Up until now, 7,000 AU troops have been trying to keep the peace in Darfur. But, under increasing attack themselves, they’ve failed to do so – mostly because they’re severely under-resourced.
Morrison is convinced that, if the AU soldiers are “given mobility in terms of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft, and stronger command and control, stronger intelligence” from the UN, then they can indeed, “remain the core” of the peacekeeping effort in Darfur.
But he feels that there needs to be “stronger support from the African quarter for renewed efforts to end the violence.”
Anita Sharma, of the Enough Campaign to end the “genocide” in Darfur, says certain African powers must become more involved in peace building efforts.
“South African President (Thabo) Mbeki - I would urge him to be a bit more engaged. But there are other countries that have really stepped up and supported the AU – Rwanda and Ghana, for example. So you do have countries within the AU who have made Darfur a priority.”
According to Sharma, it’s the international community – and not the AU – that’s ultimately responsible for the failure to protect the people of Darfur.
“The world has let the AU down by not funding its efforts in Darfur,” she points out.
But Save Darfur Coalition coordinator, Larry Rossin, describes the African response to the Darfur tragedy as “mixed.”
“There’ve been positive initiatives from the African Union – let’s not forget that it’s the African Union who are the only people who’ve actually put people on the ground to try and address the crisis. At the same time, I don’t think the AU pressure has been all that it could be on President al-Bashir.”
African peacekeeping efforts received another blow this week when the AU was excluded from high-level talks about Darfur in Paris. The organization feels that the event is undermining its own initiatives in the conflict-ridden Sudanese region.
Rossin doubts whether the calls for a boycott of the Chinese Olympics are resonating in Africa at this point in time. But he’s certain that, should China fail to act as an “honest broker” in Sudan, the activist movements will “make sure” that Africa forms an integral part of the boycott of the Beijing Games.
“I think over time, (the possible boycott) will also become prominent in Africa as well. Remember – the victims are Africans; the perpetrators are Africans; Sudan is an African country, not just an Arab country. I think a lot of civil society, a lot of people in Africa, are extremely concerned about what’s going on in Darfur.”
But there are concerns amongst activists that the tens of millions of dollars that China is “pumping” into Africa in terms of aid, investments and construction of infrastructure will make Africa “hesitant” to support such direct action against China as an Olympics boycott.
“It’s a relevant concern, and one that needs more thought,” says Sharma.
Rossin, however, says he’s confident that the people of Africa will not “stand idly by” as the world takes mass action against China because of Darfur. He sees evidence of growing pressure on China from African countries.
“When President Hu visited (eight countries in) Africa in February, African civil society, African officials themselves raised concerns about the sort of one-dimensional Chinese engagement in Africa, that focused almost exclusively on doing business, and not really on the places in which business was being done and the impact on the people,” Rossin explains.
China will begin taking a “more sophisticated approach to Africa,” he says, “because Africans know what’s going on in their own countries, and they want better – like anybody else does. And they want their foreign relationships to be something that benefit the entire country and not just a segment of it.”
Morrison, though, believes it’s “highly unlikely” that African politicians will join the calls to boycott the Olympics - given China’s “lucrative” wooing of the continent in recent years. He’s also convinced that African athletes are ultimately unlikely to boycott the Olympics because of China’s perceived lack of action to end the Darfur crisis.
“The Darfur issue simply isn’t resonating in the developing world – and Africa in particular – in the way that it has picked up speed in the US and in parts of Europe. It just isn’t on the radar in Africa in a major way, at the moment,” says Morrison.
Sharma says all efforts to pressure both Sudan and China into saving the people of Darfur must involve as many Africans as possible.
“In terms of trying to create a movement of people who care about preventing mass atrocities, this is something that cannot only happen from the United States, and this is why people are trying to urge China and the African countries and the Europeans to get engaged. Because this is truly an international effort that’s going to require international cooperation and an international response, and it’s not something that one country can do by itself.”
Jill Savitt, the director of Dream for Darfur – a human rights campaign set up in the US ahead of the Beijing Games – says pressure will continue to build on China in the near future…. And the center of that pressure will be in Africa.
“What we’re doing is launching a symbolic Olympic torch relay, that will go from Darfur to Beijing. We’re starting this in August – August 8, which is a year from the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, and we’re going to go through countries (in Africa) historically associated with genocide and mass slaughter.”
Tegla Loroupe, Kenyan Olympian and marathon champion, says she supports such initiatives, and she calls upon her fellow Africans to do likewise.
“Why we use sports today is because there is no politics (involved). There is no difference (between people); there is no diplomacy. You can be rich; you can be president; you can be whoever. But when people come together to share the field, you can understand one another, and with respect.”
But Sudanese deputy ambassador to the US, Salah Elguneid, has expressed disappointment that Africans – especially athletes – are “allowing themselves to be used” by “Western activists who don’t know the truth about what is happening in Darfur” and permitting themselves to be “pawns” in gaining momentum for an Olympics boycott.
Salah blames the US for the increasing description – certainly in America and Europe - of the Beijing Games as the “Genocide Olympics.”
“We see from all of this that it’s only the United States that is coming with this characterization. And we think that the American view of the situation in Darfur is not substantiated. It is just a personal point of view…. What is happening in Darfur is not genocide.”
But Darfuri refugee, Daudi Hari, says it’s the Sudanese authorities who are “telling lies,” and who are paying the janjaweed militia to kill his people.
“I also remember seeing how the janjaweed killed villagers. In one case, they dismembered the family bodies and put them in the village well to poison the water resources for the area.”
Loroupe says the time is fast approaching for the world’s top athletes to “use their power” and to demand peace in Darfur. Unless this is achieved soon, she says, they may have to consider a boycott of the Chinese Olympics.